Saturday Writing Tip: Experiment with Viewpoint

At the Diamond writing retreat I co-led, I got clarity about where I'm going with my current novel.  (On some odd subliminal level, getting my first novel accepted has made a huge difference in my commitment level to this WIP.) Light-light-bulbs-110673-l

But last week I spent most of my time caring for my daughter and The Most Beautiful Baby Ever Born, and not a lot of time working on my next novel.

So imagine my surprise one morning this week when the first thought I had upon rising was this:

Change Jemima's viewpoint to first person(In case you hadn't guessed, Jemima is my protagonist.)

Clear marching orders.

Or guidance from the divine.

My reaction?


Changing the viewpoint made me nervous.  One could say panicky. 

Because Emma Jean is written in third person.  The entire book is her viewpoint, and it is a very close-in third.  I like third person.  A lot.  I wrote my MFA novel in first person and after I finished it (sort of, it's still a mess), I decided I hated that viewpoint.   Thought it was too chummy.  Swore I'd never write in first person again.  I thought I'd died and gone to heaven when I started writing Emma Jean in third.

So, of course, when I began writing Jemima, I swung naturally to third person.

And I didn't want to change.

But divine guidance is divine guidance.  I figured I could give first person a whirl.  Just to play with it. ( For the record, changing viewpoints is not as simple as doing a global search for "she" and changing it to "I."  If you don't believe me, try it some time and check back here.  That's all I'm going to say.)

So I spent some time retyping Chapter One into my computer, this time in first person.  I was convinced I was going to hate it.  Hate it.  But guess what?

I'm sure you know where this is going.

I love it.  Love it.

In the third person version, I struggled with a sense of distance from Jemima.  She's a cool cucumber, and judging by the reaction from members of my writing group, a bit too cool.  Like, unlikeable.  (Yes, I struggled with this problem in Emma Jean, too, go figure.  I'm really a very nice human being in person, I swear it.)

First person is inherently friendlier.  It is as if you're sitting down with the narrator, having yourselves a chat.  Sometimes it feels as if the narrator is letting you in on secrets and deep thoughts.  And Jemima sorely needed this.  Suddenly, in first person, her voice came together.

And now I'm happy.

Create a successful, happy writing life:  Play with this.  If you're struggling with a character, switch it up, first to third, third to first.  Hell, try second.  (The "you" voice.  Read Bright Lights, Big City if you think it can't be done.)

Oh, how it would delight me if you commented.  Have you ever experienced a distance voice?  Or have you switched up viewpoints with success?

Photo by ferrison.

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2 Responses to Saturday Writing Tip: Experiment with Viewpoint

  1. J.D. 05/12/2012 at 05:05 #

    Yeah, that’s the thing about escaping to some romantic locale, it can change your view of life. A little touch with your inner self and you know longer see the world as if you were floating three stories above it all. No such luck here. My dreams are stuck in third person! And my protagonist? He is perpetually pissed-off. I can imagine all sorts of plot twists that would return him to the bliss he once enjoyed, but wouldn’t a real-life, waking hours inspiration be nice. Some people have all the luck.

  2. Charlotte Dixon 05/12/2012 at 08:01 #

    That's why writing retreats are so great!  Even a little one can help–like taking a day or a night.  There's a writing group here in town that rents out rooms for $10 a day which I might do over the summer a couple of times.  It is kind of amazing what happens when you have just your writing to focus on.   As for third person, I still love it, I'm just taking a break.  :-)

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